In which case would one be more appropriate than the other?


This can be checked in a monolingual dictionary. For example 大辞泉 says:


  1. 動力を受けて、目的に応じた一定の運動・仕事をするもの。
  2. 実験・測定・運動競技などに使う装置・道具。
  3. 自分の意思を失ったように、指令どおりに動いたり、物事を繰り返したりすること。


To summarize the supplementary explanation (補説), 機械 is usually used for machines which make use of some motive force (like an electrical motor), 器械 is usually used for devices which are operated by humans directly (via a crank/handle, for example).





On the other hand, 大辞林 has


① 動力源から動力を受けて一定の運動を繰り返し,一定の仕事をする装置。主に,きっかけを与えると人力を借りずに自動的に作動するものをいう。からくり。

② 精密な作動をする実験・測定用の装置。 「観測-」 〔規模の大きいものを「機械」,小さいものを「器械」と書いて区別することがある〕

③ (器械)うつわもの。器具。道具。

④ 書名(別項参照)。

mentioning that 機械 and 器械 may be used for large and small machines, respectively.

This loosely ties in with the explanation in 大辞泉, as very large machines are often too big to be used with a simple crank and make use of some motive force, whereas small machines often don't need any motor.

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  • Do you think maybe we should add 器具 for archival? – Daniel Safari Oct 5 '13 at 13:47

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